Category Archives: Nativity

Thy favor has appeared on earth.

Last night I attended the service of The Royal Hours of Nativity. It was not even an hour long, but the amount of Scripture in it — and theology in word, song, incense and candlelight — filled me to the brim. Here are a few excerpts:

Brethren, God, Who at various times and in different ways spoke in time past unto the fathers by the Prophets, has in these last days spoken unto us by His Son, whom He has appointed heir of all things, through Whom also He made the worlds; Who being the brightness of His glory and the express image of His person, and upholding all things by the word of His power, when He had by Himself purged our sins, sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high, being made so much better than the Angels, as He has by inheritance obtained a more excellent name than they.

For unto which of the Angels did He ever say: “Thou art My Son, this day have I begotten Thee”? Or again: “I will be to Him a Father, and He shall be to Me a Son?”

And again, when He brings the firstborn into the world, He saith: “Let all the Angels of God worship Him.” And of the Angels He saith: “Who makes His Angels spirits, and His ministers a flaming fire.”

But unto the Son He saith: “Thy throne, O God, is for ever and ever; a scepter of righteousness is the scepter of Thy Kingdom. Thou hast loved righteousness, and hated iniquity; therefore God, even Thy God, hath anointed Thee with the oil of gladness more than Thy companions…”

And: “Thou, Lord, in the beginning hast laid the foundation of the earth, and the heavens are the works of Thine hands; they shall perish, but Thou shalt remain; and they shall all grow old like a garment; like a cloak shalt Thou fold them up, and they shall be changed. But Thou art the same, and Thy years shall not fail…” (Hebrews 1:1-12)

Make ready, O Bethlehem.
Let the manger be prepared.
Let the cave show its welcome.
The Truth comes and the shadow flees.
God is born of a virgin and revealed to men.
He is clothed in our flesh, and makes it divine.
Therefore Adam is renewed, and cries out with Eve,
“Thy favor has appeared on earth, O Lord,
For the salvation of the human race.”

Psalm 86

His foundations are in the holy mountains;
the Lord loveth the gates of Sion
more than all the dwellings of Jacob.
Glorious things are spoken of thee, O city of God.
I will make mention of Raab and Babylon
to them that know me.
And lo, the foreigners and Tyre
and the people of the Ethiopians,
these were born there.
A man will say: Mother Sion;
and: That man was born in her;
and: The Most High Himself hath founded her.
The Lord shall tell it in the writ of the peoples and the princes,
even these that were born in her.
How joyous are all they
that have their habitation in Thee.

I wish you all a blessed, full Twelve Days of Christmas,
and a new year full of the experience of God’s favor and salvation.
Christ is born!

Let us eat of it and live forever.

Many, if not most, Orthodox Christians in the world will celebrate our Lord’s Nativity on January 7, as was the custom for all Orthodox until less than a century ago. Under various pressures to westernize, some began to use the “secular” calendar as had been requested of them since the 16th century. I happen to have been baptized into a “new calendar” diocese, so here I am! When I announce a feast day or a calendar date of a commemoration, saying “We –,” I don’t disregard the vast numbers of my beloved brothers and sisters who are waiting thirteen more days for their holy day. But here I go again:

We have entered the Forefeast of the Nativity of our Lord:

Prepare, O Bethlehem, for Eden has been opened to all!
Adorn yourself, O Ephratha,
for the tree of life blossoms forth from the Virgin in the cave!

Her womb is a spiritual paradise planted with the Divine Fruit:
If we eat of it, we shall live forever and not die like Adam.
Christ comes to restore the image which He made in the beginning!

From bitter cold to laughter and light.

I know that the Feast of the Nativity of Christ has passed; the Leavetaking of Nativity was yesterday, so that we might enter fully into today’s feasts. So it may seem a bit odd for me to post the poem below, but for many reasons it seems most appropriate. (One practical reason is that I only now rose from my sick bed to look at my blog!) I might be hearkening back to the early church, about which we read:

“During the first centuries of Christianity, the Feast of Theophany was celebrated together with a number of observances as recorded in the Gospels. They are: the Annunciation of the archangel Gabriel to the Holy Virgin Mary; the Birth of our Lord Jesus Christ, with the glorification of the heavenly hosts, the veneration by the shepherds and the coming of the Magi; the Circumcision; the Naming of our Lord; the Presentation in the Temple; the Flight into Egypt and Return; the Baptism at the River Jordan; the Temptation in the Wilderness and the Testimony (Witness) of St. John the Forerunner.

“This group of feasts was celebrated from the 6th to the 13th of January, called the octave of Theophany; the most prominent being the Birth and Baptism of our Lord Jesus Christ, with special importance afforded to the Baptism. The church grouped the birth and baptism, together (called Theophany, “the revelation of God,”) on January the 6th because they were the first revelations of His divinity, incarnation, and the beginning of His ministry as Lord and Savior of mankind.”

I first read the poem last summer on Elizabeth’s blog, so she obviously thought it applicable at any time of the year. And for myself, I can’t imagine looking forward to a new calendar year with anything but foreboding, were it not for the fact that “God is with us.”

Do you count this the seventh or eighth day of Christmas? Most Christians count Christmas Day itself as the first day, so New Year’s Day is the Eighth Day. For us Orthodox, it is also the Feast of the Circumcision of Christ, and St. Basil’s Day. Soon we will arrive at the glorious Feast of Theophany.

So many feasts and commemorations! But they all flow from the astounding fact and reality that “The Word became flesh, and dwelt among us.” Happy New Year, Dear Friends!

NOËL

Grim was the world and grey last night:
The moon and stars were fled,
The hall was dark without song or light,
The fires were fallen dead.
The wind in the trees was like to the sea,
And over the mountains’ teeth
It whistled bitter-cold and free,
As a sword leapt from its sheath.

The lord of snows upreared his head;
His mantle long and pale
Upon the bitter blast was spread
And hung o’er hill and dale.
The world was blind, the boughs were bent,
All ways and paths were wild:
Then the veil of cloud apart was rent,
And here was born a Child.

The ancient dome of heaven sheer
Was pricked with distant light;
A star came shining white and clear
Alone above the night.
In the dale of dark in that hour of birth
One voice on a sudden sang:
Then all the bells in Heaven and Earth
Together at midnight rang.

Mary sang in this world below:
They heard her song arise
O’er mist and over mountain snow
To the walls of Paradise,
And the tongue of many bells was stirred
in Heaven’s towers to ring
When the voice of mortal maid was heard,
That was mother of Heaven’s King.

Glad is the world and fair this night
With stars about its head,
And the hall is filled with laughter and light,
And fires are burning red.
The bells of Paradise now ring
With bells of Christendom,
And Gloria, Gloria we will sing
That God on earth is come.

-J.R.R. Tolkien

If your Christmas celebrations were lacking in bells, I recommend these videos of bell-ringing from New Jersey to California and abroad. Most of them start out slow and progress to very lively and joyous. Nothing compares to hearing them as you are leaving church after services of a Great Feast, but these are worthwhile substitutes. The bells of Paradise never stop ringing.

Bells of St. Nicholas

Brother Seraphim

St. Alexander Nevsky

Sf. Ioan Teologul

St. Alexander Nevsky (shorter)

Waking with the living pains.

Three years ago I first posted this poem, which Malcolm Guite had introduced me to in his collection, Waiting on the Word. I looked at it again today on his website where as usual you can listen to him read it if you like. By means of the earthiest concrete images Anne Ridler offers a vision and understanding that is so broad and deep, it’s providing me with fresh appreciation for all the ways that God’s grace infuses our every moment, and how His life pulls us,and prods us awake.

“The whole self must waken; you cannot predict the way.”

CHRISTMAS AND COMMON BIRTH

Christmas declares the glory of the flesh:
And therefore a European might wish
To celebrate it not at midwinter but in spring,
When physical life is strong,
When the consent to live is forced even on the young,
Juice is in the soil, the leaf, the vein,
Sugar flows to movement in limbs and brain.
Also before a birth, nourishing the child
We turn again to the earth
With unusual longing—to what is rich, wild,
Substantial: scents that have been stored and strengthened
In apple lofts, the underwash of woods, and in barns;
Drawn through the lengthened root; pungent in cones
(While the fir wood stands waiting; the beech wood aspiring,
Each in a different silence), and breaking out in spring
With scent sight sound indivisible in song.

Yet if you think again
It is good that Christmas comes at the dark dream of the year
That might wish to sleep ever.
For birth is awaking, birth is effort and pain;
And now at midwinter are the hints, inklings
(Sodden primrose, honeysuckle greening)
That sleep must be broken.
To bear new life or learn to live is an exacting joy:
The whole self must waken; you cannot predict the way
It will happen, or master the responses beforehand.
For any birth makes an inconvenient demand;
Like all holy things
It is frequently a nuisance, and its needs never end;
Freedom it brings: We should welcome release
From its long merciless rehearsal of peace.

So Christ comes
At the iron senseless time, comes
To force the glory into frozen veins:
His warmth wakes
Green life glazed in the pool, wakes
All calm and crystal trance with the living pains.

And each year
In seasonal growth is good — year
That lacking love is a stale story at best
By God’s birth
Our common birth is holy; birth
Is all at Christmas time and wholly blest.

-Anne Ridler